City won’t spray for mosquitos

City won’t spray for mosquitos

By Kathi Bliss

Editor/POST-REGISTER

 

As early as this spring, experts predicted that changing weather patterns, in particular a wetter-than-usual summer, would have a profound impact on the insect population, across the United States. That impact is being felt significantly in Lockhart and Caldwell County this October, as residents struggle with an increased mosquito population, which is striking fear in the hearts of some residents, given rumors of mosquito-borne illnesses throughout Central Texas.

Last week, a sampling of mosquitos in Cedar Park, Texas, revealed the presence of West Nile Virus in the mosquito population, though no human cases had been confirmed in the region at press time.

“All in all, those diseases are pretty uncommon,” said local physician Randall Kirtley, MD. “And even if someone does contract West Nile or Zika, it’s unlikely that they would feel anything more than a slight fever, headache and skin rash.”

Citing the Centers for Disease Control, Kirtley said only 32 cases of the Zika virus have been documented this year within the entire State of Texas, and most of those were connected to patients traveling to other locales where the disease is more prevalent.

“There are only certain types of mosquitos that carry the Zika virus,” he said. “Those are generally going to be found in South Texas and the Coastal Bend. We haven’t had any problems here in Caldwell County.”

West Nile Virus, he said, is similar, and though the disease has been found in Central Texas mosquitoes, its incidence in humans is rare. Again citing the CDC, he noted that only one in every 150 people who actually contracts the virus will develop symptoms that could be considered serious. In fact, fewer than 1 percent of people bitten by a West Nile-positive mosquito will become severely ill.

Still, concerns about the worst aspects of those, and other mosquito-borne illnesses have prompted local residents to outrage at the City of Lockhart, for not doing more to help combat the winged pests.

“People have called in talking about the fact that Luling is spraying, that San Marcos is spraying, and wondering why we aren’t,” said City Manager Vance Rodgers last week. “There are several reasons for it; the most important of those is that we can’t even get the equipment we need for our fogger anymore.”

Rodgers reported the City of Lockhart stopped fogging for mosquitoes in 2008, after complaints that the fog was causing respiratory problems for residents, and hurting other insect populations.

“We tried to fog at night, and people would complain about the noise,” he said. “We tried to fog during dawn and dusk, and they would complain that the fog was causing respiratory problems.”

Noting complaints that the City of Luling was fogging their neighborhoods, Rodgers nodded to the dangers of the chemicals Luling is using, principally a combination of malathion and diesel fuel. Malathion is recognized by the American Cancer Society as a carcinogenic product, often linked to spikes in prostate cancer. Rodgers said he refused to use the product, but was working with City staff to find other alternatives.

“We have done a lot of work on drainage this year, so we’re keeping our eyes out for places that we know there is standing water,” he said. “We’re making sure to treat standing water on City property with ‘cakes,’ which kill the larvae.”

He said because more than 75 percent of a mosquito’s lifespan is spent in the water, before the pests can fly, the most effective way to combat them is to alleviate standing water, and to use the so-called “mosquito-dunks” to kill the larvae.

“Even with what we’re doing, there is only so much that we can do without the public’s help,” he said. “We ask our residents to take responsibility for watching for standing water on their property and their neighbors’ property, and to make sure that they’re limiting the stagnant water, which will limit the places where the mosquitoes can breed.”

He said putting a few drops of bleach in standing water can be helpful in killing the larvae and preventing further breeding while the water evaporates.

Both Kirtley and Rodgers agree the safest way for residents to protect themselves from mosquito-borne illness is to employ personal protection measures.

“Wearing long sleeves and pants, and using an insect repellent with DEET if you’re going to be outside during dusk and dawn, when the mosquitoes are most active goes a long way,” Kirtley said. “When you see people that work outdoors that are wearing the long-sleeve button-down shirts and loose-fitting pants and boots, they aren’t doing that only to protect themselves from the sun. They know that will protect them from being bitten.”

Rodgers noted that even if the City found a means to spray, it would provide residents with a false sense of security.

“Even the places that are spraying, they are only doing that near their right-of-ways with standing water,” he said. “It helps, but it doesn’t alleviate the problem. The best way to protect yourself is to take responsibility for you protection, which includes treating your home and yard, making sure that you’re wearing protective clothing and using some form of insect repellent if you’re going to be outside.”

At greater risk for mosquito-borne diseases, are our four-legged family members. As early as April, the Companion Animal Parasite Council was predicting a spike in infestations of both heartworm and lyme disease in companion animals this year, due in large part to weather conditions that make situations ideal for above-average populations of mosquitos.

Some experts say that, even a pet on a monthly preventative executed perfectly could contract heartworms from an infected mosquito, simply because of the proliferation of the insects. “Pet parents” are advised to protect their pets by making sure their pets are current on their preventative medications, and by keeping dogs indoors if possible, during peak activity times at dawn and dusk. Additionally, many over-the-counter products, including repellent collars and topical repellents help protect pets from mosquito bites that could cause them discomfort and, eventually, harm.

As temperatures cool, the mosquito population is expected to dissipate. Mosquitoes tend to go into hibernation when temperatures reach below 50 degrees for sustained periods. However, in Central Texas in the fall, 50-degree days could still be months away. In the meantime, Rodgers said, the City of Lockhart will continue to look for ways to help to stave off the pest population, and urged residents to continue to take individual steps toward protection of themselves, their homes and their families.

“Most of protection is common-sense use of personal measures,” he said. “Of course, we’re going to help in any way that we can, but there is only so much we can do, and then it falls to the individual to make sure they’re doing their part.”

kathibliss@post-register.com

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